Margie Watkins sat at the dinner table going over the latest batch of bills, pondering how she would make ends meet on her extremely limited income. Ever since her beloved husband Rudolf passed away a few years ago she was barely able to survive on the meager pension she received from the government. She had cut as many corners as humanly possible last month, there was no way she would be able to duplicate it this time without sacrificing something.
“I’ve been on a steady diet of vitamins, oatmeal, noodles and tap water for the last few weeks. Hell, even the dogs eat better than I do. I’m not sure exactly how I’m gonna do it, but somehow I’ll survive. I’ve been gambling with my life for years and I don’t plan on cashing in just yet.”
She stood up and pushed herself away from the table then peered outside to get a better view of the children playing near her yard as if they hadn’t a care in the world.
She scratched her head and mumbled.
“Ah, to be young again, those little ankle biters don’t know how easy they’ve got it. No bills to pay, no responsibilities, no worries at all. I wish I could go back in time and do it all over again.”
Even though it was unseasonably warm Jimmy and his friends kept themselves busy by playing a harmless little game of soccer in the street. They laughed and teased each other like boys always do as they kicked the ball around. Who would have known that something as innocuous as playing ball would change their lives forever.
“Oh crap.” One of the boys bellowed.
“The ball went into Mrs. Watkins yard. I ain’t getting’ it.”
Having felt the wrath of the old woman many times before the boys all groaned at the thought of having to deal with her again, especially on a day where everything seemed so perfect. One by one they screamed out.
Poor little Jimmy Rogers was the last to chime in.
“Hey, hey looks like we got ourselves a winner. Right, Jimbo?” One of the boys exclaimed.
“Besides it's your ball anyway.” He continued.
Jimmy bowed his head in defeat as he casually strolled over to the old woman’s property, being careful not to draw any unwanted attention to himself. The last thing he wanted was that old lady coming outside yelling and carrying on. He carefully edged his way onto the front lawn closer and closer to the ball. You would have thought he was walking through a landmine the way he gingerly placed each foot one in front of the other, glancing back at his buddies and toward the house itself before taking his next step. Just as Jimmy entered the middle of the front yard 3 ferocious dogs came running toward the fence, barking and growling with a vengeance, startling the young boy.
He looked toward his friends for comfort but only received laughter and several fingers pointed in his direction. A shattered ego was the least of his problems though. In the distance he heard the unmistakable sound of old lady Watkins front door rushing open. An elderly woman with a walking cane burst through the door screaming at the top of her lungs.
“You damned kid’s better get off my property 'fore I feed ya to the dogs. I'm tired of y'all trampling down my flowers and breakin my windows. Go on now git.”
Jimmy quickly scooped up the soccer ball and ran as fast as his little legs could carry him, much to the amusement of his friends.
“Wow Jimbo the old hag really tore into you this time didn't she?” One of the boys jokingly remarked.
“Real funny guys, I told y’all we should have played further on down the road. That old hag makes my stomach turn with all her rantin’ and ravin’.”
Jimmy pitched the ball at one of his friends who reeled back and punted it as hard as he could sending the checkered ball spiraling over the fence deep into Mrs. Watkins backyard.
“Oh man. Not again.....RUUUUUN.” One of the boys shouted as they all took off in unison far down the street, where they should have been in the first place. Mrs. Watkins barreled out of the doorway once again, shaking her wrinkled fist and cursing at the boys as they fled the scene. Little Jimmy looked back one last time, as if to say goodbye to the ball he would probably never see again.
The boys spent a majority of the day playing in an old field and frolicking in the woods, never mentioning their run in with the old lady again. As daylight turned to darkness the boys began to go their separate ways so Johnny headed home. On the way he passed Mrs. Watkins house and thought about the ball that was more than likely ripped to shreds by the crusty old lady’s dogs. Slowly he crept up to the fence placing his hands on the rail. He looked as far as he could see in all directions, the savage beasts that had startled him earlier were nowhere in sight.
I've gotta get that ball or my dad'll tan my hide for sure. He thought to himself.
That's a 35 dollar ball; my dad would go ballistic if he knew I lost it. Especially since it’s in Mrs. Watkins yard, I ain't even supposed to be playing by her house anyways. Dad never really said why, he just said the old biddy left a bad taste in his mouth, whatever that means.
Since the dogs were no longer an issue the only thing stopping Jimmy from climbing the fence was fear. Not fear of the dogs or even the old woman. The fear of his father finding out that he had not only disobeyed his orders and played near the old woman’s yard but was now about to go over the fence deeper into the forbidden zone to retrieve a ball that for all intents and purposes never should have been anywhere near her property in the first place.
Throwing caution to the wind Jimmy spryly hopped over the chain link fence and landed squarely in the tall grass. He scanned the unkempt yard for his ball. Just when he was about to give up hope he saw something in the distance. Deeper into the yard by the back gate he saw the familiar black and white pattern so he tromped through the tall grass in hope that his 35 dollar ball was unharmed. As he neared what he thought was his soccer ball he heard the strident dissonance of loud galloping feet coming toward him.
“Crap. It's those dang dogs”. He muttered under his breath.
But before he could escape back over the fence they had pinned him in the corner where they gnashed their teeth and growled ominously. Jimmy figured this would be his final resting place but from the distance he heard a familiar yet alarming voice.
“Shut the hell up! I'm trying to get some rest in here.”
It was old lady Watkins.
I'm saved. The boy thought to himself.
Mrs. Watkins continued hollering at the dogs as she inched her way closer to where Jimmy stood. The boy breathed a sigh of relief as the old woman snatched one of the dogs by the collar, inching him away from Jimmy's body.
“That's a good boy Phantom.”
Now that the situation had been diffused Jimmy spoke.
“Those dogs are awful scary ma’am. I think I may have accidentally peed my pants.”
“Well son, they may very well be scary but it's not the dogs you need to be concerned with.”
Over the next few days everything in this quiet little neighborhood played out exactly as it had for most of the summer. The neighborhood kids still played in the street, the mailman waved at passing cars, yes everything was as it should be. All was well in the world as Mrs. Watkins sat down for a nice mouth watering steak, her third one this week. But before she could dig in, her peaceful dinner was interrupted by a knock at the door.
Wonder who that could be she thought to herself. I'm not expecting company.
The old woman put down her knife and fork and scooted away from the table. She grabbed her trusty walking cane and proceeded to the front door where she was met by a woman with a distressed look on her face. She showed Mrs. Watkins a flier with a little boy’s picture on it.
“This is my son Jimmy Dean. He's gone missing. You haven't seen him around here have you?”
Mrs. Watkins took a step back, propping herself up with her cane.
“No dearie, can't say I've seen the little bugger, though there’s usually a whole pack of young un’s playin’ around here.”
“Well would you take this flier, it's got my number on it and if you see him please call me. I fear the worst has happened to my boy.”
The old lady placed a withered hand over the woman's, gently taking the paper from her.
“I wouldn't worry too much about it honey. I'm sure he'll turn up sooner or later. The little shits always do. He's probably off somewhere with his little buddies whooping it up and having a gay old time.”
“I hope so. I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to my boy.” She said as a tear ran down her cheek.
The woman turned and walked away while Mrs. Watkins shut the door, staring intently at the picture on the flier. She began to stroke her hair, flattening any loose strands as she briskly walked through the house heading to one of the back rooms. Upon entering the room she examined the walls carefully before placing the flier in just the right spot. Satisfied with the positioning of the flier Mrs. Watkins gazed at the “wallpaper” covering the room with a sparkle in her eye. Plastered over almost every inch of space were MISSING Posters. Some more worn than others, many were so old and faded you could barely make out what they said.
Taking a few steps back to admire her handiwork Mrs. Watkins rubbed her stomach vigorously with both hands in a circular motion.
“I’ll tell ya what. That Jimmy Dean makes a great sausage but his steaks are a whole lot tastier.”